State begins taking applications for school safety grants

MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Justice began accepting applications Tuesday for $100 million in new school safety grants.

The money for the grants was the centerpiece of a bill Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last month to address school safety in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school. The bill creates an Office of School Safety within the DOJ to administer the grants and help schools develop safety plans and requires annual school safety drills. The bill did not impose any restrictions on gun ownership.

Public and private K-12 schools are eligible for a slice of the grants. DOJ officials said in a news release Tuesday that applicants must agree to provide full-time teachers, aides, counselors and administrators with at least three house of training in how to deal with traumatized children before the end of the 2018-19 school year or show staff has already received such training. Applicants must also agree to partner with police to ensure grant expenditures will be effective.

The grants will be awarded in two general categories. Schools can win money to focus on baseline improvements, such as installing door locks. Schools that have already met minimum security thresholds can use the money to install more advanced upgrades.

The DOJ will begin awarding the grants in June, the news release said. The agency issued a separate release telling schools that grant applications will be presumed public under the state's open records law but schools could refuse to release material that that could allow people to evade school security.

The agency also will watch for safety equipment manufacturers who may try to inflate prices for schools, the release said.

Asked around 4 p.m. Tuesday if the DOJ had received any applications, agency spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the online portal to apply had been open for only about 45 minutes.